How Do Antioxidants Work in The Human Body?
ntioxidants are those substances that remove potentially damaging oxidizing agents in any living organism. To understand how these substances work inside your body, you need to understand the process of oxidative stress and what free radicals are.
What is oxidative stress?
It is an imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals in the body. It is responsible for cellular and tissue damage. The process occurs naturally and plays a vital role in aging. Studies have demonstrated that long-term oxidative stress could lead to the development of several chronic health conditions including diabetes, cancer, and heart diseases.
Your body produces free radicals during normal metabolic processes. These cells also produce antioxidants that help neutralize these free radicals. Naturally, your body has the ability to maintain a balance between free radicals and antioxidants. But sometimes, several factors including diet, environmental factors like pollution and radiation, lifestyle can lead to excess free radical secretion and lead to oxidative stress.
Your body’s natural immune response could sometimes trigger temporary oxidative stress which could lead to mild inflammation that disappears once your immune systems fight off an infection or repair an injury. But if left uncontrolled, oxidative stress could accelerate the process of aging and it might also lead to the development of several ailments.
What are free radicals?
They are those molecules with one or more unpaired electron. The cells of your body contain tiny structures called mitochondria which is responsible for generating energy in a usable form such as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The mitochondria combine glucose and oxygen in order to produce carbon dioxide and water alongside ATP. The by-products of these metabolic processes are free radicals. External substances such as pesticide, cigarette smoking, and ozone can lead to the production of free radicals in the body. Some examples of free radicals include superoxide, hydroxyl radical, and nitric oxide radical.
And antioxidants like vitamin A, vitamin C or vitamin E neutralizes or removes free radicals by donating an electron. The neutralizing effect of antioxidants helps protect your body from oxidative stress. Similar to free radicals, antioxidants also come from different sources. Some antioxidants like glutathione are produced by human cells naturally. Your diet is yet another important source of antioxidants. Fruits and vegetables are enriched with essential antioxidants in the form of minerals and vitamins that the human body doesn’t generate on its own.
A balance between antioxidants and free radicals is essential for normal physiological function. When free radicals overwhelm your body's ability to regulate them, it might result in a condition called oxidative stress. Free radicals end up altering lipids, proteins, and DNA and can also trigger several health conditions. Per a 2010 study published in Pharmacognosy Review, an external source of antioxidants can help assist in coping with this oxidative stress.
How do Antioxidants Work?
Your body constantly produces free radicals and antioxidants neutralize them by either providing the extra electron needed to make the pair or by breaking down the molecule and render it harmless. Antioxidants prevent the chain reaction of free radical formation and offer health benefits such as providing an immune boost.
Antioxidants are Free Radical Scavengers!
Antioxidants are molecules that are stable enough to donate an electron to a rampaging free radical in order to neutralize it and lower its ability to damage cells. These molecules either delay or inhibit cellular damage mainly via their free radical scavenging property. They have low molecular weight and can safely interact with free radicals and end the chain reactions before they cause any damages to vital molecules. Antioxidants such as glutathione, ubiquinol, and uric acid, are produced naturally in the body during normal metabolism.
Other kinds of lighter antioxidants can be found in the diet. To have a constant supply of these substances that neutralize the free radicals, you need to consume a diet rich in antioxidants. Though various enzymes within your body can scavenge free radicals, the principle micronutrient antioxidants are vitamins B and C. Your body cannot manufacture these micronutrients, so they have to be supplied in the diet.
There are Three Levels Of Antioxidant Actions:
- Preventive: The first line of defense is preventive antioxidants. They suppress the formation of free radical molecules.
- Radical Scavenging: The second level is when the antioxidants that scavenge the active radicals to suppress chain initiation and/or break the chain propagation reactions
- Repair and de novo antioxidants: the proteolytic enzymes present in the mitochondria recognizes, degrades, and get rid of oxidatively modified proteins and also helps prevent the accumulation of oxidized proteins.
Here’s What the Science Says About Antioxidants
Dietary research findings from several decades have demonstrated that consuming higher amounts of antioxidant-rich foods might help protect against several diseases. Due to this, researchers have been conducting a lot of studies based on antioxidant supplements. Observational studies conducted on typical eating habits have also revealed that those who consumed more healthy foods like vegetables, fruits had a lower risk of several health conditions including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, cataracts, etc.
Although there is a possibility that their dietary antioxidants might have played a role in preventing these ailments, there is also a possibility that those who ate more antioxidant-rich foods also might be more likely to indulge in exercise and smoked lesser. In laboratory experiments, researchers found that antioxidants interacted with free radicals stabilized them, and prevented them from causing cell damages. Now that you are aware of how antioxidants work and help prevent oxidative stress which could lead to several health conditions, you might also be considering antioxidant supplements. But be informed about the following, before you start taking antioxidant supplements like vitamins- A, B, E, C, selenium, astaxanthin, etc:
- Do not use supplements as replacements of a healthy diet or conventional medical care
- Do not use antioxidant supplements as a reason to postpone a doctor consultation, in case of a medical problem
- Get all the information on dietary supplements from reliable sources. Keep in mind that these products might interact with medications or other supplements you might be taking, and sometimes, there might be certain ingredients that won’t be listed on the label.
- In case of ailments like age-related macular degeneration, discuss with your doctor about what type of antioxidant supplement would be appropriate